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by Martha Halpern

Front elevation of Lemon Hill. The ornate fanlight and sidelights were installed by Fiske Kimball, first director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, during his restoration of the house (1926–1927). He replaced the original versions, which were simpler and are now in the Philadelphia Museum. Photography courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Along the banks of the Schuylkill River, a few miles from the center of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, stands a group of late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century villas. Built by wealthy gentlemen-merchants, these were originally built as country retreats “finely situated for prospect, health and beauty.” The view from the bluff overlooking the river’s east bank is unsurpassed in the Philadelphia area. While some of these properties functioned as working farms, others provided elegant, fashionable, and healthy retreats from Philadelphia’s urban environment and periodic epidemics. The occupants of these summer houses, which include Woodford, Strawberry Mansion, Laurel Hill, Mount Pleasant, and Lemon Hill, could “exchange the heat and bustle of city life for the quiet pleasures of the country.” Reading, sewing, fishing, fowling, gardening, and visiting with family and friends occupied these residents during the summer months. The aforementioned buildings are preserved today in their original settings, now within the expanded city limits, due to the formation in the nineteenth century of Fairmount Park, the largest urban park in the world. The properties represent a significant collection of domestic Georgian and neoclassical architecture examples. Illustrating over a century and a half of architectural style and domestic life, the Fairmount Park historic houses are maintained today by a number of private and civic organizations, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art.1

Henry Inman (1801–1846), Portrait of Henry Pratt, in the front entry hall of Lemon Hill. On loan to the Colonial Dames of America, Chapter II, from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
Among this impressive group stands Lemon Hill. Now administered and cared for by the Colonial Dames of America, Chapter II, the house was built in 1800–1801 by Henry Pratt (1761–1838), senior partner in the important Philadelphia mercantile firm of Pratt & Kintzing and son of painter Matthew Pratt (1734–1805), a student of Benjamin West. One of the most notable aspects of the property is its place in the development of agriculture and gardening in Philadelphia.

Lemon Hill was built on grounds once owned by Robert Morris (1734–1806), the Philadelphia merchant and entrepreneur who bankrolled Washington’s army. By 1770, Morris began to accumulate parcels of land along the east bank of the Schuylkill River. On this site he raised cattle and hogs imported from England as well as a Spanish mereno ram, which he delivered to Thomas Jefferson in the hope of developing a woolen industry in America. Morris’s estate, known as The Hills, also included an elegant greenhouse surrounded by a large garden with the “best fruit trees, partly improved for the Kitchen and partly for pleasure.” While not the first in Philadelphia, it was, according to Morris, “by far the Compleatest of anything of the kind in America.”

William Logan, son of William Penn’s secretary James Logan, also had greenhouses at his house in town and at his country seat, Stenton, located in the Germantown area of Philadelphia. Here were grown the orange and lemon trees that were recorded as having been given to someone “unfortunate in business,” and then sold at auction to Morris. In 1799, Morris was forced to sell all of his holdings to satisfy his creditors. Pratt purchased a portion of the property and named his house Lemon Hill, after the famous lemon trees in the Morris greenhouse.2

Raphaelle Peale (American, 1774–1852), Lemons and Grapes, 1818. Signed and dated lower right: Raphaelle Peale Phil. Oct. 1818. Oil on panel. 121/2 x 17 inches. Courtesy of Godel & Co. Fine Art. Lemons were one of the rare commodities represented at Lemon Hill in the early nineteenth century.
Pratt was one of a number of Philadelphia gentlemen of means who had an interest in horticulture and in the collection of rare and exotic specimens from around the world. During this time, it was observed that “establishments of a botanical and horticultural character have greatly multiplied, and with them books on American gardening, all tending to a general improvement, and liberally supported by a steady demand. Gentlemen have caused to be brought from abroad, likewise, the most esteemed fruits and vegetables.” One of the most significant collections of plant specimens was established at The Woodlands, located in southwest Philadelphia.

After his purchase of the property in 1799, Pratt set about building his country house and extending and developing the gardens. At this time he wrote to several of his European business representatives asking that they send him “uncommon or curious” shrubs, flower bulbs, and garden seeds. He may also have been renovating the Morris greenhouse at the same time, for he purchased a large amount of marble from Baltimore, more than is evident in the present structure of the house. The greenhouse already contained a collection of “rare and splendid” plants first collected “by the celebrated Robert Morris before the Revolutionary War” that was later described as “brought to perfection, at immense cost and pains” by Pratt.3

First-floor oval room. This room is furnished and interpreted by the Colonial Dames of America, Chapter II, who administer Lemon Hill. The room contains a pair of Grecian recamiers, which reflect the interest in forms derived from archaeological discoveries in the ancient world. The reproduction carpet is laid wall-to-wall in the typical high-style fashion of the era. Photography courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Upon completion, the grounds of Lemon Hill attracted much attention. In 1819, a visitor to the area commented, “Undoubtedly this is the best kept garden in Pennsylvania, and when associated with the green and hot house department, may be pronounced unrivaled in the nation. The gravel walks, espaliers, plants, shrubs, mounds, and grass plats, are dressed periodically and minutely…. The treasures contained in the hot and greenhouses are numerous…. Besides a very fine collection of Orange, Lemon, lime and other trees…we notice with admiration the many thousand of exotics to which Mr. Pratt is annually adding. The most conspicuous among these are the tea tree, the coffee tree (loaded with fruit), the sugar cane, the pepper tree, banana,…and Cacti in great splendor…. The greenhouses are 220 feet long by 16 broad; exhibiting the finest range of glass for the preservation of plants, on this continent.” In addition, “There are some pretty bowers, summer houses, grottos and fish ponds in this garden—the latter well stored with gold and silver fish. The mansion house is capacious and modern, and the prospects, on all sides, extremely beautiful. In landscape gardening, water and wood are indispensable for picturesque effect; and where they are found distributed in just proportions with hill and lawn and buildings of architectural beauty….”4

Second-floor oval room. This room contains furnishings on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The sofa and chairs are in the Federal style. The set of six side and two armchairs were made in China for export to the American market. Photography by Lynn Rosenthal; courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Andrew Jackson Downing (1815–1852), noted landscape designer and writer, observed that “the effect of this garden was brilliant and striking; its position, on the lovely banks of the Schuylkill, admirable; and its liberal proprietor, Mr. Pratt, by opening it freely to the public, greatly increased the popular taste in the neighborhood of the city.” The well-known garden at Lemon Hill fostered a demand for beautiful and rare plants, and in response, many commercial gardens were established. Pratt, therefore, contributed significantly to developing a taste for ornamental gardening in the region.5

Pratt sold his rural retreat along the Schuylkill River in 1836, two years before his death. Lemon Hill then had a succession of individual owners until 1844, when it was purchased by the City of Philadelphia. It was, for a time, a German beer garden and center of the fund-raising picnics sponsored by the German singing societies of Philadelphia. In 1855 Lemon Hill was the first property to become part of the newly-formed Fairmount Park. The condition of the gardens, no longer carefully maintained, deteriorated. Today, the gardens and the greenhouse no longer exist, but Lemon Hill has been carefully restored and furnished with a number of important examples of the advanced taste of the era—that is to say, in the early neoclassical style of Federal America. Thus, the furniture and accessories represent the period of Pratt’s occupancy as interpreted by the Colonial Dames of America, Chapter II. This nonprofit, patriotic society was granted permission to occupy Lemon Hill as its headquarters in 1957. However, since an inventory of Pratt’s original furnishings for Lemon Hill has not been located, we know little about the heart of the property. Therefore, the Dames have decorated the house in the manner of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to be compatible with the style of the building. Most of these pieces of fine Federal and early Empire furniture belong to the Dames, while others are on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, other local institutions, and many generous individuals.6

Transfer-printed earthenware plate, Joseph Stubbs, Burslem, Staffordshire, England, ca. 1822–1835. Courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art; bequest of R. Wistar Harvey, 1940-16-260; photography by Lynn Rosenthal.

Detail of plate showing the Fairmount Waterworks on the right and Lemon Hill and its greenhouse on the hill above. The Fairmount Waterworks, begun in 1815 to supply the city with water, was a great engineering feat that attracted many visitors. It received international recognition in a Staffordshire pottery series depicting American landmarks.

The progressive greenhouse and gardens begun by Morris and developed by Pratt are well documented. Lemon Hill can now be viewed as one of the most important early American gardens to introduce influential ornamental styles and to cultivate exotic specimens of fruit.

Martha Crary Halpern is Assistant Curator for Fairmount Park Houses, Department of American Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art.


  1. Pennsylvania Gazette, May 15, 1760; “Recollections and Diary,” Hannah Margaret Wharton, April 23, 1813, p. 63, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. There are also two museum houses located on the west bank of the Schuylkill River that are open to the public and available for tours from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. These include Cedar Grove, moved in 1926–1928 to Fairmount Park from its original location in Frankford, northeast of Philadelphia, and Sweetbriar, built as a permanent residence by its owner, Samuel Breck.
  2. “Extracts from the Diary of Jacob Hiltzheimer,” September 18, 1774, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 16, 1892, p. 98; Jeremiah Wadsworth to John Chaloner, July 27, 1788, Chaloner and White Papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania; Robert Morris to Thomas Jefferson, June 1, 1795, and Robert Morris to John Marshall, October 12, 1795, Papers of Robert Morris, Private Letterbooks, Vol. I, pp. 336–338, 546–549, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; “Deborah Logan’s Journal,” February 15, 1831, Vol. 13, pp. 168–169, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
  3. Account of Lemon Hill Estate, 1800–1801, Henry Pratt to W. Muller, May 13, 1799, Pratt & Kintzing, Business Papers, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; “The Entire Collection of Splendid and Rare Green House and Hot House Plants at Lemon Hill formerly the seat of the late Henry Pratt, deceased, Will be Sold by Auction, in Philadelphia,” 1838, Historical Society of Pennsylvania; Hazard’s Register of Pennsylvania, No 7, Vol. VII, February 12, 1831, p. 111, Library Company of Philadelphia.
  4. “Selections from Letters written during a tour through the United States in the Summer and Autumn of 1819,” by E. Howitt, Nottingham, Library Company of Philadelphia; A History of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society 1827–1927, by James Boyd, Philadelphia, 1929, pp. 431–433.
  5. A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, by Andrew Jackson Downing, 1859, p. 27.
  6. Lemon Hill is one among several important historic houses that are well worth a visit located along the Schuylkill River in Fairmount Park. Lemon Hill, Mount Pleasant, Laurel Hill, Woodford, and Strawberry Mansion on the east bank of the Schuylkill River and Sweetbriar and Cedar Grove on the west bank are open regularly to the public, and tours are organized throughout the year by the Park House Guides of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. For group tour information, please call the Philadelphia Museum of Art at 215.684.7863. In 1926, Lemon Hill underwent a major restoration. In the previous year, architect and historian Fiske Kimball (1888–1955) moved to Philadelphia to become the first director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He became an influential ally of the Fairmount Park villas, and he and his wife were offered Lemon Hill as a residence. During his tenancy, he renovated and embellished the house with new architectural features. Although Kimball lived there until his death in 1955, he never published anything about the house. In addition, little is known about his personal furnishings except that he owned a suite of painted and gilded chairs and a sofa in the French style, originally belonging to Edward Shippen Burd (d. 1849) of Philadelphia. The suite was bequeathed to the Philadelphia Museum of Art upon Kimball’s death and was exhibited at Lemon Hill for many decades. It has been returned to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and is now on exhibit in the American Gallery.

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